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MILITARY TECHNOLOGY (MILTECH) is the world's leading international tri-service defence monthly magazine in the English language. MILITARY TECHNOLOGY is "Required Reading for Defence Professionals". Follow us on Twitter: MILTECH1

17 November 2015

MILIPOL 2015: Fast and Accurate, Next-Generation Screening Tools

During recent combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the term IED became uncomfortably familiar to the masses. Even after the withdrawal from Iraq and the troop draw down from Afghanistan, over 26,000 IED incidents and 55,000 related casualties were reported last year. IEDs are a persistent threat and are no longer confined to the battlefield. Whether road-side, vehicle borne, suicide vest, or by other means, IEDs have been used from Baghdad to Boston and Bangkok, targeting military and civilians without discrimination.

FLIR’s Fido X3 is a handheld Explosives Trace Detector that uses TrueTrace technology to provide fast and sensitive detection. (Photo: FLIR Systems)

In any mission, the right tool for the job is determined by the application and working environment. Front-line operators currently use Explosives Trace Detectors (ETD) to look for the IED itself and prevent the explosion from happening. They are the first line of defence in securing a scene and safeguarding lives against explosives threats. They play a central role in the mission to interdict threats during entry control pedestrian screening, commercial vehicle screening, and mailroom and cargo receiving.

While finding the IED is important and can prevent one explosion, finding the bomber or the weapons cache has a larger effect on winning the fight against IEDs. Random checkpoints, temporary roadblocks, or foot patrol can uncover trace evidence that can be used to seek the bulk and defeat the terrorist “left of boom.” Trace evidence collected during mobile missions fills in the intelligence picture and enables central command to direct ground efforts that lead back up the IED threat chain.
Both fixed-site and mobile missions demand products that have these technical attributes:

  • Sensitive (i.e. detects trace levels),
  • Accurate (i.e. low false alarm rate),
  • Fast (i.e. high throughput), and
  • Flexible (i.e. expandable library).


To further complicate the mission, the products must also be built to these specifications:

  • Compact (i.e. small footprint),
  • Rugged (i.e. capable of withstanding the battlefield environment),
  • User-Friendly (i.e. minimal interaction required), and
  • Affordable (i.e. low lifetime operational costs).


No single ETD has all these attributes and specifications. Handheld ETDs excel in deployed operations at mobile or ad hoc screening opportunities due to their extreme sensitivity and portability. Desktop ETDs are designed for high consequence checkpoints that require rapid screening results with maximum throughput and highest alarm confidence. While handheld and desktop ETDs are typically used as standalone solutions, the combination of the two provides complete coverage.
Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosives (CBRNE) detection product companies, like FLIR Systems, are pairing technologies to create a spoke-and-hub approach that provides complete, orthogonal target coverage. FLIR’s Fido X3 is a handheld ETD that uses TrueTrace technology to provide fast and sensitive detection. The rugged FIDO X3 is lightweight and can be taken to the person or item to be screened. Upon alarm, FLIR’s new GRIFFIN 844 desktop ETD, launched at AUSA and Milipol this year, uses mass spectrometry (MS) detection technology to confirm the detection result and identify it with maximum confidence.

Upon alarm, FLIR’s new GRIFFIN 844 desktop ETD, launched at AUSA and Milipol this year, uses mass spectrometry (MS) detection technology to confirm the detection result and identify it with maximum confidence. (Photo: FLIR Systems)

Historically, desktop ETDs have primarily utilised Ion Mobility Spectrometry (IMS) as the core detection technology. The greatest strengths of IMS are speed and sensitivity. However, IMS technology is prone to false alarms in complex sampling environments, has high recurring maintenance footprints not suited to deployed missions, and has limited clear-down capability that leads to extended cleaning procedures. Not only do these deficiencies negatively impact operations, they can render screening tools inoperable, which weakens operator confidence.

The GRIFFIN 844 is one of the only dual-mode, mass spectrometry-based ETDs developed for security screening missions. With one of the highest specificity and lowest operational false alarm rates of any commercial desktop ETD, the GRIFFIN 844 brings the accuracy and confidence of laboratory instrumentation to the field. Its simple red-light, green-light alarm interface eliminates data interpretation. MS technology has an inherently larger library capacity over IMS technology. This means as new threats are realised, the capability of the GRIFFIN 844 can grow without negatively impacting existing sensitivity or false alarm rate.

Existing handheld ETDs typically feature the same IMS technology or simplified colorimetric indicators. In addition to the challenges facing desktop systems, handheld IMS-based ETDs are not rugged enough and do not have a low enough size and weight to be a truly portable device. Colorimetric detectors trade detection capability and recurring consumables costs for size and complexity. This results in a device that is small enough to carry, but expensive to operate continuously and is neither selective nor sensitive enough to be effective in an actual trace detection application.

The FIDO X3 is the only TrueTrace enabled handheld ETD. It is one of the lightest and most sensitive handheld ETDs in its class. With a magnesium case and splash-proof seal, its rugged design meets rigorous MIL-STD-810G and IP54 specifications. Detection results are displayed in a simple red-light, green-light format within seconds to ensure fast throughput, a critical deliverable for effective explosives screening. Like the GRIFFIN 844, the FIDO X3 has a reduced maintenance footprint, rapid and reliable clear-down measured in seconds, and no lengthy bake-outs that impact operational uptime.

Combining orthogonal sensing technologies, such as TrueTrace and MS, compliments and corroborates in-field results. From interdiction missions to actionable intelligence, the deployment of both handheld and desktop ETDs provides a multi-tiered approach to maximize coverage and disrupt the IED threat chain. The need for next-generation ETD solutions extends beyond the battlefield. As passenger throughput increases and new threats against mass transit are appreciated, applications in aviation and transportation security, civil infrastructure, and emergency response are evident in the IED-defeat effort.

Ross J. Harper, Ph.D., works at FLIR Systems, and has provided this article to further deepen the reader’s understanding of available CBRNE detection products.